The Death Trap
This key difference between the relational see-saw of the horizon of mutuality and the permanent minimization and dehumanization associated with the instrumental axis explains why the black community suffers from disproportionate ongoing social dysfunction, including a stubbornly high death rate.
Mutuality can be understood as a conceptual bridge to common humanity that prevents descent into the death trap, where as the hierarchical disparity reflected in the instrumental axis (aka the supremacist slide) leads to a subjugated and diminished form of being (humanoid hill), and eventually sickness and death as more extreme disparities tilt the axis into uncanny valley (death trap) territory.
Now, because I am black, I already know that many black readers will take issue with my statement above because I seem to be “pathologizing” the black community in the way that white people do. But this critique entirely misses the point – dysfunction is 100% inevitable when human beings are subject to the kinds of minimizing and dehumanizing psychosocial conditions associated with a corpse factory culture.
Constructive-developmental theory describes a concept called “the holding environment”, that is, the psychosocial and physical context that one exists in as they grow in their psychological and cognitive development. Human beings need to be “well held” in order to grow emotionally and cognitively. White supremacy works to continuously destroy and degrade this holding environment for black people which inevitably decreases the capacity of black people to realize their full potential, including ongoing physical, mental and financial health.
Ironically, when black people insist or demand that they or other black people “must resist” the corrosive quality of the corpse factory, they are unwittingly reinforcing the white mind’s split cognition which believes that black people are some sort of indestructible humanoid robot who are not subject to the ordinary pain, suffering and decline that humans experience when subjected to consistently hostile environments.
Indeed, one of the most toxic aspects of this split cognition phenomena is the way in which it gaslights black people into distrusting and discounting their own internal physiological cues about what is actually happening to them. This is done by continuously mislabeling black experience in ways that are designed to minimize the intensity of the harm being done, all of which is further exacerbated by the tendency of many black people to use minimization as a psychological coping mechanism.
This is how you end up with an environment of ongoing unrelenting pathological hostility being recast and mislabeled as mere “adversity”. Once this is done the white mind then pretends that all black people really need to overcome this “adversity” is greater “resilience”. Then, the story becomes that those who fail and succumb to depression and anxiety simply weren’t “resilient” enough. Such a notion, appealing though it might be superficially with its notions of “empowerment” and “agency”, is in fact total nonsense and deeply destructive.
Let me be clear – of course it is important to cultivate resilience given that ordinary life is filled with unpredictability, tragedy, and loss. However, black existence under white supremacy is not ordinary – it is pathological. We endure not merely “adversity”, but toxicity. And, though many white and black people alike are reflexively inclined to resist this label of black life in America as pathological and toxic, consider this:
Most white Americans still would not choose to exchange their lives with that of an ordinary black person in America in 2018 despite stories of “how far we’ve come” and rhetorics of “progress”. Even white people who have experienced a great deal of adversity are mostly unwilling to exchange their lives with that of an ordinary black person. That this continues to be true reveals that black people are in fact experiencing a pathological way of life and not merely an “adverse” one.
Because the psychosocial conditions created by white supremacy are inherently pathological, ordinary resilience, or even extraordinary resilience will always be insufficient for counteracting the disproportionately corrosive effects of a corpse factory culture dedicated to degrading and destroying black life. This is why despite brief moments of ascension to the zone of humanity, under the corpse factory culture, black life in aggregate will at best hold steady in its position atop humanoid hill, or at worst, slide irreversibly into the death trap.
Instead of experiencing a “holding environment” as described in constructivist development theory, black people are subject to a “holding cell” environment by the wider society that is designed to arrest and then erode their psychosocial development and well-being. As such, the notion of “progress” is largely a cultural myth that hides the reality of stagnation and regression, and is perpetuated in order to mollify black anger and paint black discontent and pessimism as “unreasonable.”
I should note here that many whites and blacks alike are inclined to reject what I have stated above because they believe that I am making the claim that no progress has occurred. The claim I am actually making is that relative to the position of white people in aggregate, black people in aggregate have remained stuck atop humanoid hill.
Sure, black people have progressed, but so have white people, with the top 10 percent of white people making disproportionate progress relative to everyone else. What is more pertinent is whether the progress of black people in aggregate has been sufficient to bridge the humanity gap between blacks and whites as a whole, and, as countless studies across a variety of indicators have shown, the answer is a clear and firm “no”. Indeed, the black maternal and infant mortality rate are now actually worse than they were 25 years ago, to choose just one stark indicator. Where the gap has narrowed (such as in life expectancy), it is generally due to white regression rather than black progress.
Moreover, the answer is guaranteed to remain “no” so long as the underlying uncanny perception-cognition schema is operational in American culture and the white mind. And, given that white children are initiated into this form of cognition before they even leave elementary school, it is unlikely that this societal norm of pathological consciousness will change any time soon.
In response to black discontent, the white minded invariably tell black people that they must be “more patient” about the glacial pace of “progress” because such long established social ills take a long time to cure. While such arguments are meant to portray the speaker as measured and reasonable, the reality of President Trump’s election and democrats’ clamor to respond immediately to the concerns of disgruntled working class whites show that it is a pathological and blatant disregard for black suffering that motivates such arguments, rather than any belief that one should cultivate certain virtues in the name of communal harmony.
Moreover, other countries have bridged bigger disparities more quickly. The difference is that these countries had a will to do so whereas no such will exists in this country. Given the white mind’s commitment to corpse factory culture (as reflected in the long-standing bipartisan resistance to both universal health care and a livable wage), it is highly unlikely that white people will ever develop the will to elevate black life to a level where access to real health and well being is the norm.
Indeed, it is only because more whites are themselves experiencing the supremacist slide into the death trap due to the extreme instrumental tilt created by obscene wealth inequality that any movement is being made on these issues of universal welfare. Should the white middle class in aggregate once again find itself on firmer financial footing and thus safely re-ensconced within the “zone of humanity”, the current movement for greater social welfare will be swiftly abandoned in deference to the status quo and all its attendant racial disparities and injustices.
As such, it should be understood by clear thinking people that it is actually naked self-interest rather than social justice that largely informs the current socialist politics on the white liberal left despite rhetorics to the contrary. People of color, and blacks in particular, are simply being used as political pawns by the left in order to further what is ultimately a self-serving goal for leftist whites. Indeed, even the esteem derived from the belief that they are “the better white people” for supporting universal welfare programs is often a greater internal motivator for whites politically than is the need to atone for and give restitution towards blacks and native Americans for centuries of savage dehumanization. In other words, it is often ego and not empathy that animates the psyche of the white leftist.
It is particularly important that black people recognize this political posturing for what it is, since history has repeatedly shown that policies labeled “race neutral” that are designed to benefit whites almost always end up disproportionately benefiting whites at the expense of blacks. The racist legacy of the GI Bill is but one of many examples of this. The underlying mechanics of white socialization into uncanny perception and cognition explains why “race neutral” approaches to redressing racial injustice are destined to fail – white minds are simply not race neutral.
Du Bois is revered for having articulated the notion of double consciousness, but the great trouble is that Du Bois failed to fully realize or explain that this double consciousness that black people experience is not really their own, at least, not at first. Rather, they are implicitly perceiving the split cognition of the white mind because their own theory of mind includes the white mind. They then incorrectly internalize this pathological form of perception and cognition as their own via the mirror neuron response.
Understanding this confused misattribution of double consciousness is critical if black people mean to become psychologically whole and free themselves of this regressive form of consciousness. As a black woman immigrant who was lucky enough to be raised without this narrow dehumanizing polarity of “whiteness” and “blackness” and who therefore does not and will not operate within the limits of that construct, I have found myself subject to a kind of relentless identity policing that I could never have imagined prior to my arrival here.
Whether black Americans are prepared to admit it or not, many are just as confused by black people who do not conform to regressive notions of blackness as white people are. Indeed, the readiness with which black people in particular will identify certain activities or interests as “black” versus “white” continues to be both exasperating and tragic.
From what I’ve gathered, prior to the existence of umbrella groups like AfroPunk or Outdoor Afro and people like Serena Williams and Misty Copeland, being interested in rock music, hiking, tennis and ballet meant that you were white or trying to be. Given that I had a keen interest in and/or participated in all of these activities before such groups or individuals were household names, I am well aware of the fact that things like “interests” and “activities” do not have and never have had racial labels.
Moreover, as much as black Americans express anger at white people who reduce them to race, my personal experience has been that black Americans are far more inclined to categorize interests based on race than white people are. During the innumerable times where I was the “only one” at the rock show or on the trail or at the ballet performance or enthusiastically talking about Andre Agassi’s court side flair (back in the day), from white people I mostly received a mixture of surprise and welcome. On the other hand, nearly without fail, from most black people I received a wrinkled nose rejection, raised eyebrows, and questions regarding my “blackness”, unless they themselves were among the vanishingly tiny minority of black people who also shared those interests.
The end result of this kind of identity policing within the black community is black young people who truncate their minds in order to be accepted. Mental ill health is the end game of such self-negation. Yes, white rejection is a real phenomenon, but black rejection is actually far more damaging, and is frequently the more common experience for black youth who do not conform to stereotype.
One of my saddest experiences as a teacher was with a black student who loved rock music and anime who told me he wished he was white because then he wouldn’t feel so out of place for having his particular interests. Black people like this student are then further chastised by the black community for “chasing” white acceptance when it is actually the case that they were in fact chased out of the black community and simply found acceptance (at least initially) among white people with similar interests.
A few black scholars and activists have ruefully noted that even if all white people were erased tomorrow, one could count on black people to militantly keep white supremacy in place. My experiences have led me to believe that this is probably correct because of this internalized split consciousness that black people carry. Indeed, the most profound manifestation of double consciousness that I have observed is when black people identify this white mind split consciousness phenomena as an “authentically black” experience, and then question the blackness of black people who have no such experience of split consciousness. Some of the ongoing conflicts between African Americans and black immigrants are actually about this difference in self-other cognition since black immigrants often do not have this polarized notion of “blackness” and “whiteness” and thus do not self-identify with these concepts.
The reality is that the only thing which black people in America are guaranteed to share regardless of country of origin, culture, and individual interests or life circumstances is the experience of white supremacist oppression. That is it. This insight is revelatory because it tells you exactly what blackness (and by extension, whiteness) actually is despite the many myths that have grown up around it:
Blackness is the experience of being the target of white supremacist dehumanization and minimization.
Whiteness is the experience of consciousness that allows one to engage in white supremacist dehumanization and minimization, particularly of black people.
That’s it. These concepts have no content beyond that. Double consciousness is simply the experience of living with both internalized blackness and whiteness. When one is able to integrate their consciousness by abolishing this false dualistic construct, the internal tension created by double consciousness fades away. Of course this is rather difficult due to the ongoing material feed back from the external environment which has been constructed by white supremacy, as well as a hyper individualistic victim blaming culture that encourages people to magnify individual culpability while minimizing structural context.
The Black Box
“Blackness” in America is simply the lived experience of white supremacist oppression. It is not a culture, an aesthetic, or a mystical spiritual force that automatically unites people of African descent. This is self evident once one recognizes that all people of African descent experience blackness in America, even when they don’t share a common culture, language, or history, and have no special feelings of fraternity towards each other. Moreover, far more than a common negative experience is required to build and sustain community. This is why communities that unite during natural disasters revert to internal conflict once the disaster subsides. Shared values are what promote and sustain community, not shared oppression.
African people on the continent and across the diaspora are as diverse and conflict prone as Europeans, Asians, Arabs and other “racial” groups plagued by so-called “intraracial” conflict. The belief that people of African descent must all get along peaceably (consider the way so-called “black on black” violence and political conflict in Africa are used as cudgels against black communities) comes from a white supremacist belief that people of African descent are essentially more like docile herd animals than fully human beings with all of the attendant complexities which that entails.
In so far as white-minded African Americans are often overly self-righteous in condemning immoral behavior by other blacks, they are actually reinforcing a dehumanizing and ultimately destructive racial narrative of black subhumanity. Immoral behavior is wrong because it’s wrong. It’s not especially wrong because the perpetrator is black. This practice of pointing to the existence of intraracial conflict to minimize white supremacist abuse is as disingenuous and idiotic as using cattiness among women to minimize the harms caused by wife-beating and rape. Having imperfect morality (that is, being an ordinary human being) does not ever make one deserving of supremacist violence and abuse, nor does it absolve the perpetrators of such abuse from their own moral obligation to atone and provide restitution.
It is critical that the various myths of blackness are demystified so that people of African descent can reclaim their full humanity from the limits of the black box which has been constructed by white supremacy to reduce the complexity, individuality, and thus full humanity of black people.
People of African descent who were not raised in a context in which they are bombarded by whiteness rarely come to conceive of themselves in terms of “blackness”. Rather, just like white people, they simply view themselves as humans who belong to a particular cultural/ethnic group without loaded ascriptions of race and the limits or character traits that it implies. Curiously, many African Americans view the lack of a self-identity grounded in racial othering/consciousness with suspicion or even contempt, seeing it as a sign of naïveté or a lack of self-knowledge. But this conclusion is actually confused and comes from the false universalizing of what is actually a very specific cultural experience among African Americans.
The black American experience of internalized “blackness” and the constant, almost daily, internal self-appraisal in relation to whiteness that it engenders is in no way a universal psychological experience of all people of African descent. Even African minorities in majority white European countries are often having a different experience in so far as they are generally not subject to the forms of overt violence that African Americans are, nor is there the internal history of having their ancestors held as slaves and lynched on the land they’re now living on. People in majority black nations are of course also having a very different experience from those in minority contexts. Attempts to minimize the salience of these individual experiences in order to substitute a notion of universalized black consciousness also plays into the racist narrative which demands that the all black people be defined in only one particular way – that is, that all black people conform to the black box built by whiteness.
Far from being a source of self-knowledge and pride, the insertion of blackness into the psyche of the African has resulted in a long legacy of shame, self-doubt, and the obfuscation of the true self, just as the insertion of whiteness into the psyche of Europeans results in arrogance, entitlement, and yes, shame. Thus, the ultimate end of the internalization of a racial consciousness is actually ignorance, not self-knowledge. In the case of white minded white people, they are frequently unaware of this ignorance because they do not recognize that they have been acculturated into whiteness, and they are acculturated to believe that whatever they think counts as knowledge. In the case of white-minded black people, this ignorance masquerades as self-knowledge with black people affirming all sorts of stereotypes as essential attributes of black identity and then policing other black people into racial conformity.
The notion that lacking an internalized self-identity of blackness makes a person of African descent “naive” about the world comes from the false belief that developing an understanding of the racialised social context in which we exist requires internalizing the racial context as valid. But this is of course false. I can both recognize that structural racism exists and does me harm and reject the notion that I’m doing blackness wrong because I like cats (I’ve actually been told this).
One can in fact remain fully aware of the racialized context in which they exist without succumbing to the mind trap of internalizing a racialized self-identity which is always psychologically harmful precisely because it was designed by its inventors to be harmful and continues to operate in that way in context. Attempts to reframe blackness in terms of positive character traits are misguided because it is simply doubling down on the specious assertion that skin color can be used to predict character traits. Even attempts to rehabilitate the aesthetic denigration of black features must be undertaken with care since different ethnic groups of Africans have different morphology. Yes, many African groups have luscious backsides, but some, like the Masai, do not. They are certainly not less African for having more slender bodies.
Africa and its diaspora include a gigantic continent and multiple countries with a dizzying number of languages, landscapes, cultures, aesthetics, and beliefs. Africa is every bit as diverse as Europe is, and its inhabitants and descendants across the diaspora are allowed to be as individualized and disparate in their behaviors and interests as white people are. This should be obvious and should go without saying, but the ongoing culture of African dehumanization makes it necessary to assert the obvious.
Until the ordinary humanity of black people is readily understood, accepted, and expected, black people will continue to inadvertently perpetuate the death trap of whiteness through their misguided enforcement of blackness.